Illinois withdraws from federal immigration program
By Antonio Olivo, Tribune reporter
May 5, 2011
Gov. Pat Quinn and state lawmakers Wednesday cast Illinois as a sympathetic voice in the nation’s volatile immigration debate with two actions that run counter to a wave of pro-enforcement measures approved or under consideration in Arizona and other states.
Quinn’s office on Wednesday sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security declaring the state’s formal withdrawal from Secure Communities, a federal deportation program that targets hardened criminals but has also been used against illegal immigrants arrested for misdemeanor crimes.
Nearly a third of all illegal immigrants deported out of Illinois under the program have never been convicted of any crime, the letter stated, citing federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement figures. Quinn’s office suspended the state’s role in the program in November amid concerns about its effectiveness.
“During the suspension, we voiced our concerns to ICE and asked them to prove that Secure Communities can and will be implemented as agreed to,” the governor’s office said in a statement. “After review, we were not satisfied and determined that ICE’s ongoing implementation of Secure Communities is flawed.”
The governor’s action came as state representatives were preparing to vote on legislation that would make participation in Secure Communities optional for Illinois counties.
In a statement, ICE defended its implementation of the Secure Communities program.
“ICE’s goal is to enhance public safety by removing those illegally in our county who are also breaking criminal laws,” the agency said. “ICE will work with the State of Illinois to meet that goal.”
Meanwhile, the state Senate on Wednesday passed by a vote of 45-11 a local DREAM Act bill that calls for administering privately funded scholarships and other financial aid to students who were brought into the U.S. illegally.
Unlike the federal DREAM Act, which has failed repeatedly in Congress, the state bill would not grant scholarship recipients any kind of legal U.S. status and would not rely on public funds. The bill must still go before the House and get a signature from Quinn, who supports it, according to his office.
Both actions drew criticism from groups seeking tougher immigration enforcement.
“Illinois is without competition the most pro-illegal immigration state in the country, even before this,” said Roy Beck, executive director of the Virginia-based NumbersUSA organization.
In the absence of federal action on immigration reforms, state governments have become increasingly frustrated.
An Arizona law sought to give local police authority to detain anyone they suspect is in the country illegally. Most of its provisions have been temporarily blocked by a federal lawsuit brought by the Obama administration. A similar law was recently passed in Utah, while like-minded bills have been written in Georgia, Oklahoma and several other states.
In Illinois, immigration advocates cheered Wednesday’s actions by the governor and state Senate.
“This is a good day,” said Josh Hoyt, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which bused demonstrators to Springfield to lobby for the DREAM Act bill.
Dear Illinois Lawmakers,
I don’t want this blog to be all immigration all the time, but if you continue to support illegal immigrants in this country I will continue to blog about it (and lend my apparently lonely voice to those of us here in Illinois who would like our elected officials to enforce the laws of the country). I’m glad Roy Beck is willing to use plain words to describe the situation in Illinois (i.e. we are the most “pro-illegal immigration state in the country”) but I wonder why this sad state of affairs came to pass? Maybe the old ethnic Chicago communities can’t think straight about current immigration policy because they get nostalgic for the days when their own grandparents or great-grandparents came over to this country?
P.S. And thanks go out to the Tribune, which still has the intellectual integrity to use the words “illegal immigrant”.